Sunday, October 22, 2006

Book Review: How Soccer Explains the World

I found a second non-fiction book that I really enjoyed: How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization, by Franklin Foer. Each chapter centers on a different country and attempts to link soccer to the cultural, social, and political climates of the nation. The book opens with a dark tale detailing the role of Red Star Belgrade, a Serbian soccer team led by a powerful thug, played in orchestrating many of the atrocities committed by Serbs in the Balkan War. The next chapter details the fervent religious rivalry between the Protestant Rangers and the Catholic Celtic in Glasgow. Foer then travels to England and spends time with an aging Hooligan, a hyper-violent guy who reminded me of Begbie. Violent fandom in Europe dwarfs anything we know of in the United States. Another striking note is the widespread underlying racism and anti-Semitism in European culture, which often rare their ugly heads at soccer matches. Despite FIFA crackdowns, fans throw bananas at black players and taunt them with monkey noises, and it's not uncommon to see swastikas and hear cheers that evoke the Holocaust. Seems like much of Europe isn't quite as peaceful and enlightened as they would like us ugly Americans to believe.
Foer also touches on the economics of soccer, highlighting the new and the old rich owners of two of Italy's most prominent teams, and traveling to Brazil, where rampant corruption prevents many of world's best footballers from playing in their native country. As far as globalization theories go, he never fully develops one, except for two chapters at the end of the book. One presents soccer as a potential catalyst for reform in clerical Muslim countries, and the finale explains Foer's ideas as to why soccer never caught on in the United States, and probably never will.
Even though I am a soccer player and fan, even non-aficionados would probably enjoy this book. Foer travels throughout the world for research and interviews, and the resulting narrative is a captivating look at life and sport in a variety of places.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

you should read "Among the Thugs"- a look at the English who follow teams-I think manchester united specifically- and the mayhem they cause in the towns